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Key findings
  • Seven in 10 Nigerians (72%) support elections as the best way to choose leaders, and almost nine in 10 (88%) stand by election results, affirming that citizens must obey the government regardless of which party they voted for.
  • More than two-thirds (69%) of Nigerians believe in having many political parties to ensure that voters have a real choice, a 14-percentage-point increase since 2012.
  • But Nigerians express mixed views on other aspects of election quality. As of 2017, one-third (33%) said they feared election-related violence or intimidation “somewhat” or “a lot,” down from 51% in 2015. But three-fourths (75%) say people “often” or “always” have to be careful about how they vote, and a majority say opposition candidates are at least “sometimes” prevented from running, including one in five (21%) who say this happens “often” or “always.”
  • Moreover, just one-third (35%) of Nigerians say they trust the Independent National Electoral Commission “somewhat” or “a lot.”
  • In terms of issues that may be pertinent to voters, unemployment is the most important problem that Nigerians want their government to address, followed by management of the economy and poverty. On all three issues, popular ratings of government performance are negative – though slightly better than in 2015.

Nigeria’s upcoming elections may be as momentous as they are mammoth: More than 20,000 candidates from 91 registered political parties will square off in presidential, gubernatorial, and parliamentary contests that observers hope will strengthen the country’s democracy and ensure economic development and peace (Gana, 2019; International Crisis Group, 2018). All eyes will be on the presidential race pitting incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The elections will take place in an atmosphere of widespread security concerns and considerable uncertainty regarding the status of pending electoral legislation (Guardian, 2018; Akinwale, 2018). The two leading political parties continue to accuse each other of planning to subvert the electoral process, and rancorous debate surrounds the president’s refusal to assent to an amended Electoral Act calling for the use of electronic smart card readers to authenticate permanent voter cards, the use of central servers to audit and confirm local election results, and the capping of election expenses (Vanguard, 2017; Umoru, Agbakwuru, & Yakubu, 2018).

This analysis of Afrobarometer survey data collected in 2017 does not focus on the campaign or who will win but instead sheds light on the attitudes and perceptions of ordinary Nigerians with regard to elections and government performance in key policy areas. Findings show that Nigerians strongly support elections and party competition but offer mixed assessments of the quality of their elections and largely mistrust the electoral commission. On issues they identify as the most important problems the government should address – including unemployment, management of the economy, and poverty – their evaluations of the government’s performance are negative – though less negative than in 2015.

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer

Oluwole Ojewale

Oluwole Ojewale is assistant program manager at the CLEEN Foundation in Abuja, Nigeria.